Last year I entered a couple of photo competitions that came with a submission review - it’s no secret that LensCulture does this. I knew I didn’t have a snowball’s chance in a Texas July of even placing or even getting noticed when it came to the competition itself, but it was worth it to me not only to try anyway but also to get the feedback of an industry professional about my work. Part of what makes the process useful, in my observation, is not being afraid to come right out and be honest: to ask the question that you’re seeking the answer to when it comes to your photography.
Number one for me, based again on my own observations, since I look at a lot of photographs every single day (thanks mostly to my work on the Film Shooters Collective Instagram), is this question: should I even bother putting my work out there when it isn’t cutting edge. It doesn’t push any boundaries. It isn’t making any kind of political or social statements, it isn’t trying to redefine what photography is, it isn’t multimedia, multi-process, manipulated, going-beyond-the-frame kind of stuff. More than one person has told me I was “born in the wrong decade.” I’m not trying to reinvent any wheels here, or drive myself crazy trying to do something that’s never been done (can you even DO that anymore?). I just photograph what I see, what I love. Really my camera is just an extension of my eyes, and my brain.
So, in this day and age of everything going BEYOND: should I bother? Because putting your work out there is most certainly a bother. Never mind the physical and mental effort; when you put it out there a little piece of your soul goes with it.
I loved the reply I received to this question so much that I printed it out. I’ve read it about 10 times. It may be the most productive piece of feedback I’ve ever received. The reviewer didn’t mince his/her words, didn’t blow a bunch of smoke up my you-know-what, but really gave me an honest answer. Among it, s/he encouraged me to “. . . .focus in on a specific vision and work towards molding that into a strong, cohesive project. Don’t let rejection hold you back. . .be relentless.”
So simple, yet so complex.
I have a tendency to have big ideas that never go anywhere, either due to my own enthusiasm waning or my inability to sell the idea to others in such a way for it to get off the ground. A few years ago I started a project that was intended to be about womanhood, photographing women in masks. I made a bunch of work, tried unsuccessfully to get it shown, took some criticism about it too personally, and ultimately had all the wind sucked out of my sails when coordinating with models fell through time and time again. All the masks in my closet make for some fun mother / daughter time, tho.
At one time I also thought I would go around photographing all the Austin landmarks to try and preserve a city in flux. I kinda did that for a little while, but then realized that it was an impossible endeavor and who was I to presume I had the talent or skill to do such a thing anyway? The dragon of self doubt ate that project too.
A few years ago I was so excited about the work I made during a road trip to Big Bend that I actually named it as a project (Into the West). I waited patiently like one of those 100 year insects for a time when I would be able to go West again, and continue the work.
It took 6 years, but we finally were able to travel that way again last summer. When I came back and developed the film I was beside myself; I’ll admit it: I was super proud of what I had made. Then I looked at social media and POOF my enthusiasm was gone. Look at all these other, far more talented photographers, who went pretty much the exact same places as me and made similar work and dang who knew that everybody and their dog toured the American southwest during the summer well what’s the point in even bothering sharing this work anyhow. So I only shared the street photography, which wasn’t what I considered to be the real body of work at all.
But it is a project.
And I’m planning on working on it more.
And I’m writing about it.
So, this is my NOW. Slowly conquering the dragon of self doubt. Trying to transform the me who tears myself down into a THEN when I put the work out there. When I’m relentless. When I don’t let the figurative bastards get me down.